Distance Learning 2021: The Future of Online Education
The COVID-19 pandemic forced learners and educators to transition to a new medium of learning – remotely – on an unprecedented scale. The tools, resources, and strategies that educators worldwide adopted to meet this unforeseeable challenge came from a variety of sources. Some proved successful; others did not. With the pandemic’s end now in sight, educators and learners are evaluating the changes to education and learning brought on by 2020 that will be most useful in a post-pandemic world. The switch to online learning revealed both strengths and weaknesses in distance education. Now, educators have the chance to capitalize on the forward momentum caused by COVID to improve distance learning for everyone.
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Moving Forward: 5 Changes to Distance Education That Are Here To Stay
Pre-pandemic distance education was a choice. School closures then forced everyone online. Places where distance education never happened like elementary and secondary schools were confronted with moving to remote learning without having any experience in doing so. There were hiccups along the way.
Strained lesson delivery and a loss in student engagement were common complaints, but those speedbumps have only shown educators where online learning works, where it does not, and what must be done to make it better. The following is not only a collection of lessons learned from the pandemic but also which changes brought on by the pandemic will become the new standards in distance education.
The Rise of Hybrid Education
Remote learning was unheard of in elementary and secondary schools. Distance education was almost exclusively within the realm of higher education, as university students were better equipped to stay motivated and complete coursework on their own. School closures forced K-12 students to begin learning in a mode that they were unaccustomed to.
The rollout of remote education had its flaws and while everyone involved wants to get back to the classroom, some students have found unexpected success in distance education. Without the noise and distraction in most classrooms, students have been able to focus on their tasks in the quiet solitude of their homes. The lessened workloads have also given remote students adequate time to spend on completing assignments without feeling hurried or rushed.
Being at home has also meant more support from students with special needs, who may otherwise have felt isolated in a normal school setting. Going forward with this information means finding which students could benefit more from learning in a hybrid setting where online and in-person instruction are blended.
A New Definition of the Word “School”
Even though school closures and remote learning raised the ire of many parents, other parents and teachers have embraced the substituting of in-person instruction with virtual classrooms as a chance to re-think what a “school” means in the 21st century.
Parents who have seen a marked improvement in their child’s academic performance during lockdown are interested in how remote learning could be a stepping stone to ensuring future achievements.
Initiatives to re-work everything about the educational system – from reducing the length of school days, eliminating homework for some grades to teaching to a test – have often been dismissed, despite evidence supporting them. The pandemic ushered in these changes suddenly.
And, despite their critics, they have led to positive outcomes for many students. As more students continue to thrive during the lockdown, schools will have the proof they need that students are capable of learning in many different ways, including outside the four walls of a classroom and that real attention should be paid to redefining their role.
Making Distance Learning Equal and Sustainable
Switching to distance learning may have gone off without a hitch if everything needed to sustain it was in place. Things like proper equipment and reliable Internet connections are needed to facilitate online learning, but school closures revealed the sorry state of affordable Internet access in the US.
Study after study has shown that middle-to-upper class students who attend middle-to-upper class schools have found the transition to distance learning seamless thanks to their access to high-speed Internet and their technical literacy. Other studies have shown that has not been the case for lower-income students who have had more disparate outcomes.
US Census Bureau data even revealed that 20% of American schoolchildren were still relying on paper materials sent home in 2020. If the future of education shifts to remote learning, societal changes need to take place to adequately sustain it. More students, from all backgrounds, must have greater access to broadband networks.
Instead of plying students with new laptops and tablets – which has been the norm for some time – teachers and parents need to also support and guide students so they put these new technologies to better use. Technology alone cannot make better students, but technology paired with sustained emotional and societal support can.
Ed-Tech Literacy Will Grow
Not that teachers and students were tech-illiterate before the pandemic, but a typical school day for most kids did not even involve using a computer most of the time. During the lockdown, laptops and PCs have been the vessels that carried lessons from teacher to student and both had to learn how to navigate them.
That trend will continue in 2021. Teachers who may have not had the time to train on a new lesson delivery system or classroom management application should be given the time to learn, perhaps through micro-learning sessions of 10 or 15 minutes. Students may have an easier time mastering online programs but their instruction should also be closely guided.
E-Learning and Online Software Will Improve
Among the few benefits that have emerged from the switch to remote learning has been that it gave ed-tech software developers a test-case to see how their programs worked in the real-world. The ed-tech industry was able to gauge the performance of their programs on a massive scale, which will invariably lead to improved designs that pivot away from mere information transfer to encouraging students to think critically, creatively, and spontaneously.
While document creation, sharing, and editing tools like LuminPDF will continue to be invaluable for students and teachers, new programs should explore and expand on the advantages that online learning gives students like flexibility, organizational skills, and independent thinking. Any new emerging software should remove the barriers between a student’s enthusiasm for learning and the source of that learning.